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Risers and Sliders: 2011 NFL Draft


The college season kicked off last week as NFL prospects from around the nation displayed their talents for league decision-makers. Several prospects looked good in the season opener, while a few high-profile prospects turned in disappointing performances.

Patrick Peterson*/CB/LSU: The top-rated junior cornerback had a quiet night defensively, as he was rarely challenged by North Carolina QB T.J. Yates. Peterson still impressed NFL scouts in the return game, accumulating 244 return yards and one score by halftime. When the game was over, Peterson's line read 157 return yards on four punt returns and 100 return yards on three kick returns (and five tackles).

Aldon Smith*/DE/Missouri: We ranked Smith third on our list of defensive line prospects last week, and he proved himself worthy on Saturday. He was a force against the Illinois option attack, leading the Tigers with 10 tackles, three tackles for loss and a pair of sacks. Smith's speed and ability to make plays in every direction are impressive.

Daniel Thomas/RB/Kansas State: Thomas was unstoppable against a solid UCLA defense that possesses a number of good NFL prospects. His final numbers: 28 carries for 234 rushing yards and two scores. Thomas showed power and durability, carrying the Wildcats to victory, and justified the third-round grade prior to the season.

Kyle Rudolph*/TE/Notre Dame: Rudolph showed reliable hands and helped the Irish get off to a quick start, catching four passes during the first quarter. Yet, it was his blocking that really stood out, as Rudolph looked dominant run blocking and in pass protection. He consistently handled Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, one of the nation's best pass rushers, in one-on-one assignments.

Zach Pianalto/TE/North Carolina: After struggling with injury throughout his junior campaign, a fully healthy Pianalto was another tight end tough to stop in Week 1. He led the Tar Heels with eight receptions against LSU and looked sharp blocking. Scouts graded Pianalto as a free agent prospect coming into the season, but that opinion must be re-evaluated.

Steve Schilling/G/Michigan: Schilling, who looked liked a star in the making as a freshman, has struggled the past few seasons adjusting to Michigan's motion offense. On Saturday, he showed signs of major improvement in his ability to block on the move and annihilate opponents at the point.

Drake Nevis/DL/LSU: His stat line of four tackles, one tackle for loss and a sack barely tells the story. Nevis was a nuisance to the veteran Tar Heel offensive line all night, with his quickness and playmaking abilities resulting in false starts and errant snaps by the opposition.

James Kerley/WR/TCU: Kerley came up big for the Horned Frogs during their win over Oregon State. He led the team with six receptions and one scoring catch. His 19-yard reception late in the third quarter kept alive TCU's game-winning drive. Kerley has all the makings of a fourth receiver at the next level.

Sleeper AlertKelechi Osemele*/OL/Iowa State: The Cyclones left tackle was dominant in the first game against Northern Illinois. Osemele did a terrific job protecting his passer, then destroyed opponents run blocking. He possesses the skills and brute strength to start at right tackle or guard in the NFL.

Greg Romeus/DL/Pittsburgh: Romeus was non-existent during the Panthers' overtime loss to Utah. The senior totaled just four assisted tackles and was handled most of the night by first-year starter John Cullen, who played for Fullerton (Calif.) Junior College last season. Romeus had been struggling with back problems through most of August camp, something which must be taken into account.

Michael Pouncey/C/Florida: Pouncey's initial foray to the center position was an adventure in the Gators' win over Miami of Ohio. The former guard struggled with the shotgun snap throughout game. Florida QB John Brantley was forced to continually scoop up low snaps or reach for errant snaps which threw off his timing. Pouncey has time to recover, but must significantly improve before scouts seriously consider him as a next-level center.

Lawrence Wilson/OLB/UConn: Wilson was given a top-75 grade by scouts who love his athleticism and ability to swiftly move sideline-to-sideline. His lack of size is a concern, since Wilson is built like a safety at 6-feet, 218-pounds and it was evident in the loss to Michigan. Wilson was easily blocked from the action, constantly got caught up in the wash; and on a number of occasions had ball handlers breaking his tackles before picking up yardage after contact.

Notes: It was a successful return for a number of prominent NFL prospects who did not play in 2009 or suffered through injury-plagued campaigns, starting with Mark Herzlich. The Boston College linebacker showed flashes of his prior dominance against Weber State and lost none of his intensity on the field. He totaled four tackles, a successful performance in every conceivable manner. ... Ricky Brewer, who sat on the sidelines due to a suspension last year, led Colorado State with 10 tackles in the Rams loss' to rival Colorado. Brewer's a terrific athlete that pursues the action sideline-to-sideline with speed. ... Oklahoma State running back Kendall Hunter, who was never healthy as a junior, turned in a brilliant performance against dismal Washington State. Hunter totaled 257 yards on 21 carries, a 12.2 average, and crossed the goal line four times.